The inaugural CarAdvice Correspondent competition has been run and won, with Victorian Mandy Turner becoming the first-ever winner.
Securing herself a three-month paid position with CarAdvice – including training in journalism, presenting and driving – Mandy will also join the team at October’s 2015 Tokyo motor show with thanks to Mazda.
Only just beginning her journey as the CarAdvice Correspondent, Mandy said, “The pressure in the final was unbelievable. The experience I had was just unforgettable.”
So how did it all go down?
Brought together from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria respectively, our three Correspondent finalists for 2015, Anton van Schalkwyk, Doug MacDougall and Mandy Turner, join CarAdvice CEO Andrew Beecher at an exclusive pre-event dinner in Sydney before being chauffeured to their luxury accommodation at the Pullman Hyde Park.
Arriving at our top secret location bright and early the next day, all are brimming with excitement.
The grand final comprises three tutorial sessions and three challenges: attend a press conference and write a news story based on the proceedings; produce a video review of the all-new Mazda MX-5; and safely and accurately negotiate a custom-made driving course.
Overseeing the day’s events, and acting as mentors to our three finalists, are our four judges: television personality and Mazda ambassador Lauren Phillips, former World Rally Championship driver Chris ‘Atko’ Atkinson, CarAdvice founder Alborz Fallah, and CarAdvice associate publisher James Ward.
After a brief introduction to the location and the judges, our potential Correspondents are ushered into a classroom with Lauren for some key tips and pointers on presenting.
Moving from desk chair to car seat, Anton, Doug and Mandy all get some static one-on-one time in a Mazda MX-5 with Chris, covering everything from how to sit and how best to hold a steering wheel to driving basics and respecting the vehicle you’re driving.
Back into the classroom, our top three get a lesson from Alborz and James in news writing and, importantly, how to tell the ‘story’ of a car.
Tutorials done, it’s time for the day’s first official challenge: the press conference.
Anton, Doug and Mandy are given 30 minutes to write a news story about the all-new Mazda MX-5, following a presentation on the fourth-generation sports car by Mazda Australia senior public relations manager Karla Leach.
Far from being left in the dark, all three finalists each have at their disposal an MX-5 specification booklet, an iPad, a voice recorder and – handed out earlier in the day – their own ‘old hat’ notepad and pen.
A journalist by trade, 30-year-old Telstra product and technology media manager Doug is instantly in his element. Managing to expertly churn out not one but one and a half news stories in the allotted time, Doug excels in the written side of the exercise.
Proving his own smarts, 28-year-old mechanical engineer Anton is the only one of the three to leave the press conference area post-presentation, walk outside, and take his own photos (on his given iPad) of the three MX-5s laying in wait for the day’s later activities. Uniquely, he also garners some one-on-one time with Karla Leach, asking plenty of follow up questions.
A radio announcer for Southern Cross Austereo, 28-year-old Mandy plays it somewhat safest, relying mostly on the old pen and paper to gather her notes and put together her news story.
With specs and details fresh in the mind, our top three ready themselves for arguably the day’s most critical test: a video review of the all-new Mazda MX-5.
Paired at random with a specific MX-5 and one of CarAdvice’s in-house videographers, each finalist has 400 metres of closed road to themselves and two hours to shoot a maximum two-minute video.
Anton scores a $39,990 Soul Red Roadster GT automatic, Doug a $37,990 Soul Red Roadster GT manual and Mandy a $31,990 Crystal White entry-level Roadster manual. All are powered by Mazda’s 96kW/150Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder, all feature six-speed transmissions, and all ride on 16-inch alloy wheels.
With a small amount of guidance along the way from Lauren, all three successfully complete their videos in the allowed time and with huge smiles on their faces to boot.
Anton focuses on the new 1.5-litre engine, Doug the delights of driving a manual car and Mandy on what the all-new MX-5 offers new car buyers.
Anton expertly runs through his car’s specs and appears the most relaxed when behind the wheel, Doug’s enthusiasm is clearly evident from his lively attitude and huge grin, and Mandy excellently highlights her car’s roof, price and market appeal.
A short lunch break provides a chance for the finalists to catch their breaths, gather their thoughts and absorb more of what winning The Correspondent means to them.
With lunch fresh in their stomachs, it’s the perfect time for the day’s third challenge: the driving test.
A brief, light shower in the past, the afternoon sun shines down on our secret test facility, ensuring top-down motoring is not only viable but mandatory.
The custom-made driving course consists of a standing start, a tricky, almost double-apex right-hander, a series of S-bends, a short slalom, a blind over-crest right-hander and finally, a parallel park.
Each finalist has two runs to prove their skill, with extra pressure coming in the form of a passenger… none other than Atko himself. First up is Anton.
Eager to perform, Anton is quickly out of the gate and through the Ss but clips a cone coming through the slalom.
Mandy is second and, while not as outright fast as Anton, is flawless in her first run – impressing Atko with her prowess behind the wheel.
Doug is next and – clearly excited – takes off quickly but has a minor brain lapse approaching the slalom and drives straight past all five cones (we’ll blame the pressure of having Chris Atkinson in the seat next to him for that one).
Our top three’s second runs are better. Anton corrects his earlier mistake and has an error free run, Mandy lifts her speed but maintains her accuracy and Doug completes the full course this time and at a very respectable pace.
Adrenalin still coursing through their veins, our finalists are whisked away back to their hotels for a freshen up and a change of attire. The day might be done, but the night is only just beginning…
Final deliberation and announcement
All three Correspondent hopefuls reached the finals as a result of standout video or written reviews – or both – of their respective pride and joys.
Anton showed off his 1976 Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI replica and 2013 Subaru WRX. Doug introduced us to his 2010 Subaru Forester and his super cute sausage dog, Mac. And Mandy made us all laugh with her look at two classics, a 1947 Ford Anglia and a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle.
Arriving at CarAdvice’s Sydney headquarters, Anton, Doug and Mandy are all dressed to impress and looking sharp.
Each has 10 minutes with their previously allocated videographer to watch their finished Mazda MX-5 video review before going in front the judges for the last time ahead of the announcement of the winner of The Correspondent 2015.
Nerves are obvious and the tension is palpable. All three are happy with their videos but none are convinced that the title is theirs.
Sharing their final thoughts with the judges and receiving feedback based on their individual performances during the day, our top three are asked to leave the studio to let Lauren, Chris, Alborz and James come to a decision.
A long and heated discussion takes place, with arguments on all sides coming out in favour of various people. All of the day’s challenges are taken into account and considered but one name comes up again and again.
Without exception, all three finalists did a fantastic job throughout the day and all three impressed not only the four judges but also Karla from Mazda and all the behind the scenes people present during this year’s event.
There can of course only be one winner though, and for 2015 that winner is Mandy Turner.
The judges all agreed that choosing a winner was far more difficult than any of them had expected, with each contest delivering unique content highlighting their own distinctive angle and style.
Doug blitzed the news writing challenge and got plenty of laughs for his amusing and high-intensity video. Anton impressed all with his post-press conference MX-5 snaps and won praise for his clear video presentation and calm persona behind the wheel.
But receiving the most positive comments from Atko and putting together an easy to watch video with the best ‘story’ of the three – focused cleverly on the information new car buyers most want to know – Mandy showed a terrific understanding of the role of a motoring journalist: to skilfully inform yet entertain.
“Anything with a motor has been in my blood right from the start,” Mandy said post win.
“As a baby, I used to watch my dad do motorbike racing. I have always enjoyed writing, but never thought about bringing cars into it.”
Shooting her original video entry (pictured above) with an iPhone, the Shepparton local says she was “completely shocked” to have been chosen as a finalist.
“The panel must've looked through the lack of resources I had.”
As for The Correspondent experience, Mandy said, “To have Chris Atkinson in the car with you, giving you driving tips, is something I will never forget. And listening to what Lauren Phillips had to say in her training session, and putting her advice into my very own video – it was great to have another girl to bounce off.”
“The CarAdvice team really made me feel comfortable and a part of their family. They have made my dream come true in so many ways.”
Gracious in defeat Anton said, "The biggest highlight was being able to work with a team of professionals from CarAdvice and get professional tips from Lauren Phillips and Chris Atkinson.”
"It's a clever competition to find talented, passionate car people and to give people a real chance to do something they truly love.”
Doug too shook off his disappointment, saying, "Mandy will make a terrific Correspondent – she definitely knows her stuff – and I'm looking forward to tuning in to her reports from Tokyo later this year."
"Having worked as a journalist earlier in my career I have seen how difficult it is to break into motoring – back then it seemed very few car journos were under 40 and opportunities were limited. So it was so refreshing to see CarAdvice break the mould and search for the next up and comer through a competition like The Correspondent," Doug said.
"Participating in the final was genuinely one of the best days of my life. Overall I think the CarAdvice team deserves a huge rap for having the ‘cojones’ to put on a competition like this."
CarAdvice would like to thank Anton, Doug and our winner Mandy for all their efforts, Lauren Phillips, Chris Atkinson and Karla Leach for all their high quality help and support and all those who have backed The Correspondent competition in one way or another.
Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be the next CarAdvice Correspondent? Look out for #TheCorrespondent 2016…